5 Seresstine, continued
All four of them looked at me. Drussik looked annoyed. He’s about eight hundred years old and is suspicious of me because I’m both female and a mage. Kalanik and Bronnok, both reluctant supporters of the mage auxiliaries, looked skeptical. And Mattiak just frowned at me. “Sneaking is one thing,” he said, “but we need a messenger who can move quickly.”
I shrugged, and flitted from one side of the tent to the other. “Is that quick enough for you?” I said.
Everyone but Mattiak recoiled when I did it. Mattiak’s frown deepened. “Gentlemen,” he said, “leave us.” They glanced at each other, then at me, and filed out. “Sit,” he told me. I sat.
He sat down opposite me. “You can’t go farther than you can see,” he said. It wasn’t a question. I nodded, wondering where he was going with this. “You get disoriented when you…I don’t know what you call it. Arrive. Yes?”
“True,” I said, “but—”
“We don’t know how far ahead the invaders are,” he added. “So we don’t know how long it will take.”
“I’m still going to be faster than any of your runners,” I said.
He put his hands on his knees and gripped hard, like he was trying to keep himself from standing and pacing again. “So, to sum up,” he said, “you can’t go straight there, you’re defenseless at the end of each of these leaps, you don’t know where you’re going, and you don’t know how long it will take.”
“That sounds right,” I said.
He shook his head. “I can’t allow you to risk yourself like that,” he said.
“I’m a soldier, aren’t I?” I said.
“You are not a soldier, and I don’t give a damn what the King thinks about it,” he shouted, startling me. “Who else is going to direct those mages if you don’t come back? You think those invaders are going to be gentle with you if they catch you? This is not a risk worth taking!”
“So the alternative is waiting to see if we run into them the way that division did, unprepared?” I said. I managed not to shout at him in return. “Or send a runner who might be captured and killed because he can’t escape the way I can? We’re not—”
“Out of the question,” Mattiak said. “You want to be a soldier? I’m making that an order.”
“I misspoke,” I said, still remaining, if not calm, at least outwardly so. “I’m not a soldier. I’m a spy. And this is what spies do.”
“Not you,” Mattiak said. “You—” He stood and turned away. “You’re not replaceable,” he said.
“Elleria and Ryenn are both capable of directing the mages, and Rutika is almost as good a spy as I am,” I said. “I’d be a poor general if I were actually irreplaceable.”
He shook his head, but said nothing. I went on, “This isn’t as dangerous as you think, Mattiak. I haven’t told you even a third of the things I’ve done over the years that were more dangerous than this. Mostly because you might think you should hand me over to the authorities.” I smiled so he’d know I was joking, but that was wasted because he still had his back to me. “I’ll be careful. Remember, I can’t flit farther than I can see, and I’m sure I’ll see the enemy long before I get that close. Then I’ll come back. I won’t go into the camp or anything like that.”
“I wonder if you’ll be able to help yourself,” Mattiak said.
“Of course I will. As if I’d risk myself like that when the point is to tell you where the army is,” I said.
His shoulders slumped, then he turned around to face me. “I hope I never meet your husband,” he said. “There’s no telling what he might say to me for letting you do this.”
I remembered all the times Cederic had told me not to go wandering, but with that look on his face that said he knew I couldn’t help myself. My instinct is to protect you, but that instinct is wrong. You would not be who you are if you were not willing to risk yourself, he’d said, and the memory made me smile, because everything he felt for me had been in his eyes at that moment. “He knew what I am when he married me,” I said, “though he’d sympathize with you having to deal with my recalcitrance.”
“I know exactly how your husband feels about you,” he said, turning around to smile ruefully at me. “You go, you come back, and if you spend one more second than you have to in the field, I’ll devise a whole new set of punishments just for recalcitrant mages.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, saluting him. “I’ll need to explain what’s happening to the mages, and then I can leave immediately.”
“In the morning,” Mattiak said. “You might be able to see in the dark, but not as well as you can see in the daytime, and I don’t want you missing any evidence if they’ve turned well aside from where our men met them. And you should be rested if you’re going to do this. I’ll speak to those soldiers again and see if I can get you at least an initial direction.” He took my arm as I was about to leave the tent. “Be careful,” he said, and he looked so serious it made me shiver. I just nodded.
So I’ve had time to pack some essentials, food and water and a blanket in case this takes longer than a day, and I’m doing what I always do to calm myself, which is write this record. I really am more excited than afraid. I’m sure I can keep away from I’m not going to write that. Too superstitious. Let’s just say I feel confident in my abilities, and I’m going to be careful, just as I promised Mattiak.
Though I feel…it’s probably nothing, but—something about the way Mattiak looked at me suggested he was concerned about me as something more than a friend. But he wouldn’t, would he? He knows I’m in love with my husband—I talk more about Cederic with him than anyone else, and he even encourages it, so would he do that if he had a romantic interest in me? I suppose attraction doesn’t care if the object of your interest isn’t interested in you, but why would he…
No, I’m just being stupid. He’s far too old for me, and he’s not the sort of person who would let himself fall in love with someone who’s unavailable. And he certainly wouldn’t use a friendship to build that kind of connection when there’s no chance of it going anywhere.
Besides, I’m really bad at picking up on those kind of cues, so I’m almost certainly mistaken. There was a night—the last night before the convergence—where Cederic and I lay in his bed and made each other laugh at how we’d misunderstood each other so often. I’d told him how I’d thought of him as Smug Git even before I could understand his language, and he’d said that every time he’d come to my room in the palace to say goodnight, he’d thought about sweeping me into his arms and kissing me and couldn’t believe I had no idea how he felt. I teased him about being as blank-faced and unemotional as a statue, and he started tickling me, then kissing me, and that led to more interesting activities no statue ever dreamed of doing.
I have this fantasy—well, lots of fantasies—but this one is that I’ll flit all the way to the army, and it won’t be the God-Empress’s, it will be the army from Colosse, with Cederic at its head, and we’ll be able to clear up all the misunderstanding and bring peace to two countries so we can go off and live our lives somewhere far away from anything remotely political. I’d settle for just finding Cederic again.